Opinion

Ten’s a crowd in the doctor’s office

Last week, I wrote about one problem I’ve been witnessing in the doctor’s office — about those 5-minute doctor visits.

This week, in Time magazine, I read about a possible solution. And it frightens me.

Group appointments. Yes, doctor-patient-patient-patient-patient-patient relationships.

It appears more people are seeing their doctor with another nine or so other patients in the room.

This isn’t an entirely new idea, but it’s becoming more popular than ever. Since 2005, the percentage of practices offering group visits has doubled, from 6 percent to 13 percent in 2010.

The growth is fueled by a number of problems in our health system: the often weeks of waiting for a time slot; limited face-time with the physician during a private appointment; and the ever-growing doctor shortage.

Proponents of group appointments say it’s an easy way to have more face-to-face time with your doctor.

In my mind, it’s a great way of scaring people out of the doctor’s office.

These appointments require divulging and discussing private medical information in front of strangers — albeit ones who have signed waivers promising not to talk about other patients’ medical histories outside of the visit.

But privacy still remains an issue. HIPAA, anyone? Waivers between strangers — or worse yet, a coworker or neighbor who wanders into your appointment — don’t hold much weight. Signing a paper is no guarantee.

On a personal note, I don’t have white-coat syndrome. Never did. What I do desperately have, though, is social anxiety. For me, it’s a terrible proposition. It would scare me out of ever going to the doctor’s office. I don’t much like small talk, let about talking to strangers — or even people I do know — about my medical woes and disease management.  

Or think about this: Have you ever had someone (a friend, a neighbor, grocery store bagger) try to diagnose you when you were sick, and how completely annoying that is? Imagine that happening. All. The. Time.

The Time article estimates that group appointments would last close to two hours. Sure, it’s a time-saver for doctors, but for patients, that’s a lot of (potential) time lost.

I see some advantages to group appointments for chronic, but stable conditions. I know some people who belong to support groups for problems such as diabetes or autoimmune disorders, and they get more time just to talk, or complain with others like them. But for a physical and other issues, shared time with a doctor seems more than problematic.

My concern is that, in time, this may be the new substitute for individual appointments. And that's just bad medicine.

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer is Managing Editor for Benefits Selling magazine. She can be reached at kmayer@sbmedia.com

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